This entry is cross-posted on the OAC.
This past year, I graduated with a BA in anthropology, and I'm on my way to graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park. There, for the first time, I will be engaged in helping to instruct college age students (as a teaching assistant), and, looking forward, I feel strongly that teaching anthropology will be as important to me as conducting research.
In the past I've taught younger children ranging from toddlers to young teens, and, being the reflective person that I am, I've spent a lot of time already thinking about the nature of pedagogy. Lately I've been thinking more specifically about an anthropological pedagogy. In particular, I'm interested in the context of education more than the content. When I taught younger children, I often found that it was more important to create an environment of learning rather than trying to teach the kids specific facts or ideas. This, I believe, is in accord with Bateson's concept of deutero-learning in which learning is differentiated into logical types. On one level, a student may learn a fact, but on another level, the student is also learning about the context of learning that fact. As a result, if the student learns the fact in order to regurgitate it on a test the next day, then what exactly is it that they are learning? There are also contexts of contexts; for example, why is it okay in the US education system that students can simply memorize and regurgitate, but still get a degree? What do they learn from that?
However, this post is not intended to vent my frustrations with the higher education system in the US, but to put forward a question, or rather a series of questions. Given the idea that we learn as much (if not more) about the context of learning as we do the specific incidents of learning, does the traditional lecture hall with discussion classes format actually teach anthropology? Certainly, students need to learn those facts about anthropology (i.e. Who are James Frazer, Edward Tylor, Margarette Meade, Clyde Kluckhohn, etc.? What is cultural relativism? and so on), but I believe we should embed those facts in a context in which students will learn what anthropology is really about. For that we would need a pedagogy based on the theories and methods of anthropology (indeed, each discipline could take this approach as well, so that we'd have sociological, psychological, economic, etc pedagogies; the lecture hall format is too one-size-fits-all). The real question is, what would an anthropological pedagogy look like? What skills would it foster? What experiences would it provide?
I know a lot of people are experimenting with new styles of teaching (most notably, Mike Wesch), and I like Bill Guinee's idea posted in the Teaching Anthropology group forum. I would like to hear about others as well - the primary question to ask about these experiments is, do they create a context for learning that emphasizes the theory and methods of anthropology or is it simply another way for students to collect facts?
On the other hand, I could be all wrong about this. Those of you with more teaching experience might see the value of the lecture hall or problems that would arise from the kind of teaching I've described. Please, share those as well. I'm ready to learn.